Actively Learn


Using WEB 2.0 Tools in teaching reading


I work in a university in Turkey. For my action research project, I explored a tool called “Actively Learn” which is a web-based tool that enables teachers to enhance reading by adding comments, questions and other items into online texts. Teachers can customise instruction, provide real-time feedback, allow peers to collaborate, and get analytics on student performance. Reading is transformed from a passive activity to an active, collaborative one. I integrated this piece of technology within my classes that focused mainly on the teaching of reading skills.

I use many web-based tools such as “kahoot”, which is useful for practising and revising vocabulary and grammar. I also use tools for speaking, listening and writing; e.g. “quill”. Actively Learn, on the other hand, is the first web-based tool I used for reading. It is a thrill – at least for me – that students are doing something different to what they conventionally do on printed material. I used the tool with B2 level university students who are competent in using technology and willing to experiment with it in class. 16 students attended the classes.


I teach academic English to Foundations Year Programme (FDY) students ranging from CEFR A2 to C1. The students study a locally-produced book and read an average of 20 paragraph long academic texts about various subjects such as psychology, sociology, education, science and history. These texts can be demanding for students and can be challenging for the instructors themselves, too.

The students have the opportunity to use technology during their study at university. Students and instructors are given a free laptop. Newly admitted students are given training in using the technology available on the campus. In each classroom there is always a projector, a sound system (speakers), Ethernet cables and connections. Wireless Internet coverage is everywhere within the campus.

The Process

Most of my students are externally-motivated when it comes to reading long academic texts in class and they often express how boring and tiring this can be. My challenge in the project was to implement some sort of technology that would not only motivate but also engage my students in reading classes. Therefore, I started thinking about reading-related technological tools.

In using Actively Learn I had to first upload a text (see Figure 1).


Figure 1 Workspace


In one of the classes the text was about “The Silk Road” (Figure 2) so I found some informative short videos on YouTube that would reinforce the text. In Actively Learn you can embed YouTube videos and/or add multiple choice, true/false, or open-ended questions in any part of the text. These can be put between paragraphs and students cannot proceed with the rest of the text before they complete these tasks. In this instance I used comprehension questions. (See Figures 3 and 4).


Figure 2 The text


I realised that students perceived the task more like one that involves watching some videos and answering questions rather than a reading task. In this case, I had to find a way to balance the amount and type of tasks. Therefore, for a reading text I put one or two short YouTube videos and the rest of the tasks were comprehension questions.


Figure 3 True / False questions


Figure 4 Comprehension questions


I used Actively Learn with my students four times. Only four students experienced all four texts and the others fewer times, either because they were absent or forgot to bring their laptops and had to share with one of their peers.

At the end of the semester, I collected data anonymously via SurveyMonkey. I used five open-ended questions to find out about their experiences with Actively Learn.



I was aware that students are given so many questionnaires all the time and that I had to make sure that they would participate. Therefore, I waited until the end of semester and asked them to complete the survey in class. Unfortunately, this put extra stress on the project limiting the available time.

I wanted to hold interviews with some of the students but I realised I did not leave enough time because students had already left after they completed the survey at the end of the semester. I know that next time, I would complete everything in advance.

Secondly, in terms of findings, the project taught me not to have any expectations at all about the findings after research. As I have a highly positive feeling for technology use in class, I expected the students’ reactions to be all positive. What surprised me is that although many students reacted in a positive way saying that they found the tool very beneficial, three students showed very negative reaction. To me, this means that assuming all young people will like using technology in class is a false expectation. One participant stated that “it blunts your writing and scanning skills”. I presume what they meant is when doing tasks there is no actual writing with pen/pencil on paper. However, the same participant found copying and pasting answers as a useful feature. Another participant disliked the idea of reading on the screen but liked the feature that enables all students to see each other’s responses to tasks. Finally, another participant showed extremely negative reaction to the tool rejecting it completely without providing any justification.

In terms of positive responses, apart from the usual answers such as “yes, it’s very beneficial”, a prominent finding is that technology can contribute to student autonomy since using this tool they feel less dependence on the teacher as the response of one participant indicates: “dont run around the teacher for answers are correct or not”. Vocabulary learning, too, was mentioned in several responses. Students can highlight and right click on a word to see its dictionary definition. In addition, students can, as was mentioned in a participant’s response, study the text in chunks divided by tasks.  The participant found this to be a very effective and memorable way to study reading and used the following words to describe Actively Learn: “useful, clear, fun”.


During the project I learnt that the whole process of doing action research was in many ways very beneficial for me as I was given the opportunity to collaborate with other researchers in this project via Skype, Facebook, and other means. I was able to explore a tool, do research and get findings.

I learnt that teachers need to be careful when choosing technological tools for their learners. What I had in my mind and what the tool could offer were not the same. I was originally looking for a tool that would enable me to send questions to specific students at any time. I thought the tool called geddit would suit my need. Not only it did not but as of 2016, the tool also ceased to exist.

When I changed the technological tool I had selected to use in the project, I had to change my research question, too. It is in the nature of AR that one might have to change one’s research focus. Knowing that I could change it made me feel relaxed but I also became aware that a change of focus might put constraints on the timing of one’s project.

Students’ mixed reactions to the use of technology in reading classes helped me understand that not every student might appreciate it. Moreover, some students can be so much exam-oriented that they might find any method other than the traditional ones as a waste of time. However, I believe that there should be a fine line in terms of balancing the use of technology in class. For instance, if I use Actively Learn from time to time I believe I can spice up the reading classes. It is a powerful tool as it helps students interact with the text and read it in chunks – letting them have some break between long paragraphs. Therefore, I will keep using it.

Finally, I have learnt that doing research or at least collecting feedback after introducing students to a technological tool provides insights into how effective your teaching can be for students.


3 Tools to Explore This May


In this post, I wanted to share some of the tools I made a shortlist of during May with a brief description and ideas for implementing in my teaching.


1. Spellup: This was introduced on May 13th as a new word game and Chrome experiment. I first tried it on my iPhone and I had to type instead of spell and some letters were behind some icons inaccessible. When I tried it on my laptop with Chrome, it worked best as it was described (also on Android and tablets.)

Ideas: I’m planning to first demonstrate it in class. After some time, I might devote one lesson for a spellup competition. I’ll use 3-4 laptops, placed in front of the class, with groups of three students. I’ll have to plug in and out the sound cable whenever it’s a groups turn. Each time one person from the group will come to the front and use their laptop to compete.

I’m not planning to use this game in class for individual work or for early finishers. Instead, I will recommend students to play this game outside the class.

quill_logo2. Quill: This is another tool I heard of in May. I think it’s not about writing skills but more to do with practicing grammar through typing. At first, I got excited presuming that I could upload students’ long writing assignments and get them correct their mistakes and get feedback. In reality, there are some Quill worksheets that you can assign to your students. Yet, this is extremely useful, because you can monitor students progress from your dashboard. You give your students a code so that they do not need to sign up.

Ideas: I think I will use quill for homework. Students can do these worksheets on their own and I can monitor their progress. In fact, I assigned them some worksheets to be finished in two days time about subject-verb agreement, which is a common problem amongst my students.


3. Chalkup: This is a nice tool to create and assign written tasks; check students’ papers and give them feedback and numerical grades. This is similar to Edmodo, which I personally don’t feel the need to use since we can assign written tasks and run them through turn-it-in using Moodle, which is more than enough. What really attracted me about this tool is the integration with Google Drive. We use Gmail at school so all teachers and students have easy access to Drive all the time. Plus, the annotator for feedback is something that Moodle lacks.

Ideas: I am planning to use chalkup for setting regular short writing tasks for my students.

Update for Chalkup: When I tried to sign up, I was asked to choose my school. There’s an “international” option but my school name was not listed. Send them an email and be patient, because the next day it’ll be there.

Scheduling emails to be sent later


Recently, I had a situation where I needed to attend to some official paper work the appointment of which was at the time I was teaching. I couldn’t estimate how long it would take so I was not sure whether to postpone the lesson, or ask my teaching partner to take over, or simply give them a task and return to class as soon as I am done. Since I thought it would not take long and maybe after the first lesson I could continue with teaching, I decided to go with the last option.

However, the problem was informing the students. If they were informed before the lesson, there’s a chance that they wouldn’t turn up. I had asked them to bring their laptops and the task I prepared for them was perfect for self-study individually or in pairs/groups. So, I started to search for sending scheduled emails. The first thing came up was “boomerang”. I didn’t have much time, so instead of exploring more, I installed the extension immediately. This gives you one month pro trial.

Soon, I found out that my school account on Gmail does not support this extension, so I had to use my alternative Gmail account. I copied and pasted the contacts and composed an email to be sent at 8:30 am, which is 10 minutes before the lesson starts. The email explained the situation and asked them to start working on the task attached. The task required them to search on the Internet about some endangered species, choose one from the list and prepare a PowerPoint presentation based on an outline provided. They had a lesson time to do the task which I assumed wouldn’t be enough for a proper task completion. Yet, keeping in mind that there could be early finishers, I composed another email scheduled to be sent at 9:30 am, which is the end of the first lesson. In the email, I asked them to first go to “geddit” and check in there, and to state whether they finished. I could see their check ins from my phone while dealing with the paper work. An early finisher task was also attached in the email scheduled to be sent at 9:40, which is after the break, and students were informed that this email would come in the previous email. This was preparing “kahoot” questions for the vocabulary for that lesson’s input. To take the attendance, in the email I asked them to go to the chat room I had opened in our section “moodle” and type that they were there. I also set the chat room to be visible at the end of the first lesson. My final email scheduled to be sent later at 10:30 am was just in case I was still not there. Since I arrived before that I deleted it.

In sum, using “boomerang” and with some extra arrangements, I could do a distant lesson. It required some prep work. Another situation could be that you might be on the move at a time you need to send en email, such as an exam result to students.

For scheduling emails another tool is “rightinbox“. Both boomerang and rightinbox are subscription based services and allow you to send limited number of scheduled emails per month for free. Also, if you are concerned about privacy, these are not very suitable for you since you grant them access to your inbox. An alternative idea I found on the Internet is using Google Sheets, which is explained in this post.

How to use “boomerang”

Go to and click on “install boomerang”. It’s explained well step-by-step. After the installation, compose and email as usual, you’ll see the following “send later” button:


When you are finished composing your email, click on “send later” and schedule your email:

2014-05-19_1204When you choose the time of the email and click on “confirm” you will see this message:


That’s it, you don’t need to do anything else. If you want to see and edit your scheduled emails, click on the “boomerang” icon and click on “manage scheduled messages”:


VOSCREEN: a fun tool to learn&practice languages


I knew about this tool long before when it was in the project stage – which I thought was a brilliant idea. In a nutshell, you watch a really short extract from visual media (film, series, ads, etc.) and choose from two options the correct transcription. When you google “voscreen”, here is what you’ll see:

001When you click on the link, it asks you to choose your mother tongue:

002You can then sign up if you want or just to see how it feels, you can play as a guest. If you sign up, you will be able to monitor your progress and your scores, etc. You can also edit your profile and upload a photo.


I should work on my score 🙂

How it works

When you start using this tool, you’ll see that the video is covering most of the screen. After you press the play button, you watch the short extract around five seconds.

005You can watch it again if you like. Now, you are expected to figure out what the representations in the middle of the boxes below the video mean. In the development stages, there used to be “yeah, I got it” and “I’m not really sure” options. My guess is that the lines with a diagonal red line over means “I’m not really sure” and the one without the red line means “yeah, I got it”. After, you choose one, you’ll be shown the transcripts. If the video you watched is in the target language, the transcript will be in your mother tongue and vice versa.

006You’ll notice that on the right, there’s a timer counting down from 15 seconds. The quicker you answer, the more scores you can get. If your answer is right, the box will turn green, if wrong then red. After 15 seconds, the correct answer will be revealed if you don’t click on anything.

007The developers claim that they have a special algorithm that is the heart of this tool. So, this tool will react according to your level and your progression. Some videos will be repeated according to this algorithm until mastered and the level will gradually go up.

I used this tool in my lessons by projecting my laptop on the screen and I gave my students the wireless mouse and they would take turns as they pass the mouse over. They really had fun. I know for a fact that some students kept using it after that lesson.

One concern would be that this tool didn’t seem to work on my iPhone and I don’t know whether it works on Android. It’s certainly great on a computer or laptop.

and the info link:

‘Interactivizing’ Printed Course Book Using Moodle


Recently, I turned one unit from our hard copy coursebook into an interactive online version using Moodle. This post is to share my know-how and also keep a record of this process for my future reference 🙂

How to make: Interactive Coursebook


  • Soft copy of your coursebook (on PDF, Word, or JPEG)
  • A screen shot software (Jing)
  • Adobe Photoshop CS2
  • Moodle (+ knowledge of making quizzes)

First, go to your course on Moodle and turn editing on 🙂 (So simple, yet I keep forgetting)

1Make sure that you have all the necessary windows open – especially the soft copy of the coursebook.

2014-04-18_2026_001This is the soft copy screen shot of the unit I worked on (below):


If you have already have a soft copy, that’s great but of course you can scan your book – even take pictures with your phone.

Next, you need to add “book” resource on your Moodle course.

2Click on “add an activity or resource”, then choose “book”:

3Give it a name and description. If you like, you can change the settings for restriction of access, etc.

46Save it, then on the course page, click on it to edit the chapters and other info.

7After you typed your chapter title, type anything in the content window and save it for now. On the left top of your window, you should see this (below):

8This shows the table of contents. Here, you can add, delete, hide and edit other chapters as well. Click on the hand icon to start editing.

9Delete whatever you typed before saving and when you have a clean content box, click on the “Toggle full screen mode” as shown with the arrow.

Below you will see the first image I added to the content window. This is from the coursebook I teach at Sabanci University. Using “jing” I took the screen shot of the necessary part. This part is something I wanted to use as it is. However, you need to edit the image before you put it there. In your folder where you keep these images, right click on the image and open it with Adobe Photoshop CS2 (download free).


Click on “alt+ctrl+I” to change the image size. Alternatively, on the file menu, click on “Image” and choose “image size”. Now, what we need is the right width for the image. Change the width as “810 pixels” and click on “OK”. Any image which has the same width on the hard copy book you want to put on your “book” resource needs to be saved as, like in this procedure – width= 810px.

10After I put the image, I had to put some written course book content. However, to make everything proportionate, I used “table” option. Below is an excerpt from the book:

11This is in Word, so it’s easy to copy. Again the 810px rule is important to have a proper formatting.

12Depending on your page design, you need to decide how many columns and rows you will need and which ones you might want to merge, etc. For example, below you can see how I made a table. There are two columns and four four rows. On the right, there should be an image (of an old lamp) – which I didn’t feel the need to edit the size in Photoshop. I merged the rows on the right and inserted the image there.

13On the left column, each row will receive some course content – mainly the instructions. Using ctrl+C and ctrl+V, you can add your content from the soft copy of your course book or any other material.

14Now, here is the important part. Because if you only put some images and texts cut and pasted from the soft copy book, it will be only an online version of your hard copy book. In order to ‘interactivize‘ your book, you need to use your knowledge of quiz tool in Moodle. The parts in your book that reads something like “Read the text below and answer these questions” can be turned into interactive activities for your learners. To do that, you need to analyze the activity and decide which quiz questions you can use. For instance, a text with true false questions can easily be turned into an interactive activity.

15For this, you need to go to “question bank” and depending on the type of questions in the book, you need to choose appropriate quiz questions.

2014-04-18_2154_001You need to prepare all your quiz questions.

2014-04-18_2154Make sure that you name the quiz questions effectively to remember and locate when necessary. Now, we can go to course page on Moodle and create a quiz. On the course page, click on “add and activity or resource” and choose “quiz”.

5You can then click on the quiz you created and add all the questions you prepared in this quiz. The next thing to do is on the “book” resource, in an appropriate place, type something like below and copy paste the link of the quiz you prepared using “insert/edit link”. Remember that your learners should not see the quiz on the course page. It should only be linked to your “book” resource. That’s why you should hide your quizzes.

15Once you save it, now your online version of your course book will interact with its users, when they click on the link they will answer the i.e. reading questions and get immediate feedback, plus you can monitor their process. Below are some examples of these questions. You can also add supplementary materials such as YouTube videos to your content. This is ideal for those who missed the class on that day and/or those who want to do revision. I’d be pleased if you let me know what you think about this post, especially if you are a Moodle user 🙂

16 17 18

Top 5 Mobile Apps Used By Students in Higher Education


As an English teacher working in a university, I was intrigued by a scene I have been facing in the mornings when I enter the classroom, which inspired me to do some research and write this post. The picture is something like this: 8 – 10 students out of the total of 14 are sitting with their gaze fixed on their mobile phones and not even talking to each other, waiting for the teacher. Whilst letting students use mobile phones during the lesson can be a topic of debate, I was indeed more interested in knowing what they were really doing with their smart phones. Needless to say, all my students possess smart phones and they are mostly addicted to them. The picture below can give you an idea of what kind of phones they have.

Students' Mobile Phones in a Box during an Exam

Students’ Mobile Phones in a Box during an Exam

Data Collection

I asked just two simple questions to encourage greater number of responses. I collected the data through a questionnaire using SurveyMonkey. The questions are in the students’ native language to minimize any misunderstanding. The data were collected from 92 informants who are university students  enrolled in a one-year intensive English course at the Foundations Development Year in Sabanci University, Istanbul.


Here is a summary of the findings, the details of which you can find below in the infographics and at the bottom. The majority of the students have an iPhone, next preferred smart phone is Samsung. Looking at the apps the students use in their phones, it can be said that students use their favorite apps to “chat” mostly. The raw and analyzed data can be found at the bottom of this post.

What Phones Students Have

What Phones Students Have

Antconc Analyzed Data

Antconc Analyzed Data

Top 9 Mobile Apps Used by Students in Higher Education

Top 9 Mobile Apps Used by Students in Higher Education


Please click here to read about the details such as the raw and analyzed data, the list of apps, etc.

Geddit: reflections and classroom implementation



I found this tool two weeks ago and I’ve been using it almost everyday. The fact that it’s on my Bookmark Toolbar and the positive response by the students makes it a successful tool for me. In this post, I’d like to introduce this tool and show how I’ve been using it.

I also need to state that all my students have smart phones and there is wireless everywhere in the campus. Alternatively, students can use their laptops, and tablets, too.

Basically, geddit is a tool to monitor students’ progress. You can ask questions to your students anytime during the lesson. Collecting instant feedback, making a quick poll, and even a small quiz is possible.

2014-03-21_2057Signing up is really easy. First, you need to choose your role. I haven’t tried the student sign up but I can say it is fast seeing my students already responding to the questions as I was expecting them to spend at least five minutes trying to sign up.

choose your role

choose your role

Below you can find what kind of info you are required to enter. For the email, by default it says ‘your school email’ but actually you can enter any accounts such as Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail.

sign up info

sign up info

Once you sign up and you are in, there are three steps to familiarize yourself with the tool. First, you can watch a two minute video about the basics and the logic of this tool. Then, you can try the demo lesson for hands on practice. Finally, you can add your first class and get started. I particularly found the demo lesson useful to get to know this tool. You start with giving a name for your class. I gave “R5M2” as this is my current class.

2014-03-21_2111You can then continue with either preparing your lesson or setting up the student accounts. There is no particular order. Either can be done any time. Yet, I started with the student accounts. Here you have two options:

2014-03-21_2111_001Later I realized that giving students the class code was the easiest thing to do for me. There is a 6 digit code and students enter your class using this code. Once they enter with this code, students reported that next time they could enter without the code.


However, I tried the other option as well. I had an Excel class list sheet and I uploaded this list with great curiosity thinking what they can make out of this list as it was not made according to some certain template. To my surprise the message below came up.2014-03-21_2118Even more surprising was to see a neat name and surname list of my students after about ten minutes! Anyway, let’s have a look at some important aspects of this tool about how you can use it. Below in the screen shot, you can see some important aspects. Firstly, changing the lesson name is a good idea to make an organized archive. Since, my current course is for 16 weeks, I wanted to name the lessons in this format: “week5Mon”. You could set a date if you like. Secondly, you can prepare your questions after or before you click on ‘start teaching’ button. Finally, make sure you click on ‘save&exit’.

2014-03-21_2119Now, I think the core of this tool is the questions. When I first started using Geddit, the options you could do with the question was something like this:2014-03-21_2125So, you could ask your students multiple choice, or short answer questions or give them a poll. But recently I noticed that there is now ‘long answer’ option as well.

Apart from answering questions, students can ‘check in’ and state their progress. Let’s say they are reading a text and after reading they can check in how much they understood. They can raise hand to ask a question without raising their hand physically. Since I haven’t figured out a systematic use of this aspect of the tool, I cannot write more about this feature, that is, monitoring the students. So far, I’ve focused on asking questions and collecting feedback aspects of this tool.

Some examples from my lessons:

 I took notes from my students’ individual presentations and using my notes I prepared ten multiple choice questions. Preparation is really easy. Students enjoy doing anything using their mobiles let alone adding pictures makes it even more attractive for the students. Here is one of the questions:2014-04-05_2216You can see even more detailed statistics about the answers such as individual student’s answers and their confidence level through the ‘check in’s they make. I also use this tool to collect immediate feedback:

2014-04-05_2225These two examples are from my past, completed lessons. As well as exporting the statistics in .csv format (Excel can open it), you can share these with your teaching partner(s), or a colleague. Also, after every lesson, there is a comment box for you to record your reflections for that lesson. Here is an example of how I used the new ‘long answer’. This time the questions are from a running lesson:

2014-04-05_2229So, before reading a text, as a warm up, I wanted my students to use their mobile phones to search for information about a concept. Students have no difficulty typing with mobile phones. Later, I asked them to watch a video and answer a couple of questions. You can choose any student’s answer and share it anonymously with the rest of the students. You can prepare your question whenever you want, before or during the lesson. Once you click on ‘ask’ button, it becomes visible to students instantly.

Overall, I find this tool very practical, easy to use, and engaging for both students and teachers.